Power of pink
By Lindsay Doty
For Allison “Ali” Dixon, the dreaded call came in July while she and her teenage daughter were on the way to get their nails done.
“They said I had cancer. I was in shock,” she remembers. “We pulled over. I’ll never look at that parking lot the same. My daughter just cried, and then we said, ‘We are still getting her nails done.’ So, she got her nails done pink.”
The Avon resident and Plainfield business owner (she owns and operates Schakolad Chocolate Factory located at The Shops at Perry Crossing) first discovered a lump in her breast after a crate bruised her arm last Christmas.
“It didn’t go away. Then it was COVID time, so I put it off,” she said.
She eventually went to get things checked out. Dixon had an ultrasound, a biopsy and a mammogram all in one day. Doctors discovered she had Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), sometimes called infiltrating lobular carcinoma, the second most common type of breast cancer after invasive ductal carcinoma (cancer that begins in the milk-carrying ducts and spreads beyond it).
“I found out and within three weeks I was having a double mastectomy, then a port placed and then treatment starting a week later,” said the 45-year-old mother of three who’s currently going through chemotherapy. This month, she’s on round three of four treatments, stretched over two months.
“I have a long road of radiation in the spring. They call it the red devil,” said Dixon, referring to one of the strong chemotherapy drugs.
Despite the treatment that leaves her balding, she’s having fun with her new accessories.
“I have lots of great hats. I’m having fun with the wigs. I have a purple one for Brownsburg,” she said with a laugh. “I’m doing things I have never thought I would do.”
For the upbeat soccer mom (really, her daughter plays soccer for Brownsburg High School) it has been the constant flow of support that has helped get through the darkest moments.
She calls her sister and husband some of her best waiting room cheerleaders.
“Because of COVID-19, you can’t go back, but knowing they are there is reassuring,” Dixon said.
During a September girls soccer game between Brownsburg and Avon, the Orioles showed up to support Bulldog player and friend Alanna Dixon, knowing her mom had breast cancer. They played with pink shirts that read Dixon.
“It just made me feel so happy and made her stronger,” Dixon said about her daughter.
The online support from other breast cancer warriors has also been a comfort. She’s gotten tips in the late-night hours from women online like “put a towel on your head” for a burning-hair panic.
“I’m so thankful for these women,” Dixon said. “I really want to push that support forward.”
At the front of the chocolate shop, she’s selling lollipops wrapped with a pink ribbon with 100% of proceeds going back to cancer research.
For Dixon, it’s the little silver linings that go a long way. She turns to her faith and friends and tells others it’s okay to not know what to say to your cancer friends.
“I really wanted to say ‘If you don’t know what to say, pray,’” said Dixon.
For women who have been there, like breast cancer survivor Crystal Carter from Avon, the experience has been full of life lessons. Diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in September 2018, she’s now cancer free after treatment at IU Health West Hospital.
She has been through 16 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy with tissue expanders and 33 rounds of radiation.
“The hardest part of this journey was seeing my family see me in pain,” said Carter, a busy mother of three who lives every moment for her kids.
Her cancer journey has been a wake-up call for self care.
“I spend more time finding things that make me happy. I really enjoy crafting now. My lifestyle has changed because I eat healthier foods, and I exercise at least three times a week,” said Carter, whose kids range in age from 7 to 20.
She’s eating healthier, journaling, reading her Bible more often and saying no when needed to commitments. She wants to help make sure other women are taking care of themselves, which includes getting regular mammograms.
“I feel really good. I truly know what it means to be happy. I’m determined to enjoy the rest of my life and make great memories with my family,” she said.
Even though Carter had great support from her family and friends, she took full advantage of the resources at IU Health West and the community.
“She attended support groups, networked with community groups like Red Alliance, befriended other women also in treatment, attended exercise classes and participated in health coaching opportunities,” said Michelle Hoy, an oncology social worker at IU Health West Hospital that was part of Carter’s care team. “Crystal has learned to take charge of her health, create new healthy lifestyle habits for her and her family and spend her time on things that bring value and meaning to her life.”
Take steps to know hereditary breast cancer risks
By Jennifer Pierle
HRH board-certified nurse practitioner who specializes in genetics, high risk prevention and survivorship
Breast cancer awareness month is a time to focus on prevention, including getting an annual mammogram. However, knowing your family history is another form of preventive care that can save lives, and genetic testing can be an additional step toward giving you a clear picture of your risk and health.
What is hereditary cancer?
Hereditary cancer is risk that is passed down through generations by the inheritance of altered genes or gene mutation. Only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary. However, women with certain genetic mutations can have up to an 87% risk of developing breast cancer by age 70.
Hereditary cancer red flags
- Families who have a combination of cancers on the same side of the family including two or more breast, ovarian, prostate, colorectal, uterine, stomach or pancreatic cancer.
- Family members with breast cancers at the age of 50 or younger and any colon or uterine cancers at 64 or younger and rare cancers including ovarian, male breast cancer or triple-negative breast cancer.
Risk management recommendations for an elevated likelihood of breast cancer include close observation such as increasing annual surveillance with a breast MRI in addition to a mammogram. The goal is to take steps to prevent cancer or find it at an early stage when it is most treatable.
How do I get genetic testing?
The Oncology Genetics Center at Hendricks Regional Health works with patients to evaluate cancer risks and create a preventive wellness plan because by understanding genetic history, health care professionals can help give patients a healthier future.
Coping with a breast cancer diagnosis
By Dr. Sade Imeokparia
Breast surgeon at IU Health West Hospital
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, and many people will know someone who has received this diagnosis. Here are a few strategies for families coping with a new diagnosis:
Prior to the first visit with a doctor on your breast care team, compile initial thoughts and jot down questions you would like to ask. Patients will be given resources that will help them learn more about their diagnosis. Obtaining information from credible organizations will allow patients to get a better understanding of options for treatment.
If your loved one is coping with a new diagnosis, they may need help with actionable tasks. Perhaps they have a to-do list you can help them tackle, or perhaps you can communicate non-medical concerns to the breast care support team. You may feel helpless in the initial phase, however it can be very powerful to have a partner, friend or family member who just listens.
Find a “new normal”
Having a routine and feeling a sense of control over how we spend our time can make us feel comfortable. This routine should make time for activities and connecting with people that bring you joy.
Find an outlet that allows you to manage your stress in a healthy way. For example, a few minutes of quiet meditation, picking up an old hobby, writing in a journal or listening to music can all be great ways to manage this stress. If you need social support, try a socially-distanced walk outside with a friend or two. Be gentle with yourself, eat healthfully and remain mindful of your needs.